An excited young Jo (Scarlet Alice Johnson) jumps into a taxi, waving farewell to her mother and her daughter. As her family finish waving her off, they retire back into their flat ... and are immediately accosted by gun-toting masked assailants.

Oblivious to this, Jo arrives at the local airport where she’s greeted by the equally breathless Max (Jack Gordon). He rushes her through to a VIP lounge where she’s also introduced to quiet blonde Gwen (Elen Rhys) and narcissistic Dave (Michael Jibson). It transpires that this quartet of virtual strangers have each won an all-expenses-paid private jet trip to New York, through the social networking site they collectively use:

They spend a brief while getting to know one another over glasses of cheap champagne. Then a voice over the speaker system ushers them towards their private jet. Upon boarding the plane, a suited woman insists they each relinquish their mobile telephones – much to young mum Jo’s consternation. Still, with the threat of losing her free break looming, she soon complies.

Once the plane is in flight, the excited foursome settle back to watch a broadcast on an on-flight television screen. The digital image on the screen is known as the aptly named Alligator (Joshua Richards) and promises to be the voice of their hosts, He advises that there will be games during the flight, and that prizes – tickets to top shows etc – will be theirs for the taking.

Alligator chooses Dave to take the first challenge: he’s asked a bunch of questions about himself, which he answers while the others watch giggling, half-drunk. But this game turns sour for Dave when Alligator’s answers reveal far more about him than he’s prepared to share. How does Alligator know so much about him?

Jo’s up next – and she gets the same treatment, resulting in a second competition winner getting severely freaked out. Max and Gwen follow, their foibles also being exposed by the all-too-honest Alligator. It seems that he has been monitoring his network members’ private lives extremely closely indeed ...

Things really heat up when Alligator pushes his suddenly sober contestants into the second round of games – and threatens to probe further into their private lives. For example, young Jo is exposed to the others as having revelled in (and forwarded on) shockingly violent footage online only weeks earlier.

Gwen is exposed as being a liar when it comes to filling in online sexual surveys; Dave is humiliated into revealing his penchant for watching paedo filth on his PC.

This trip isn’t such a great prize after all, it seems. Dave decides it’s time to visit the pilot of the plane and make a complaint. Bad move ...

PANIC BUTTON intrigues early on and quietly compels throughout, the consequences of our competition winners trying to kick back against Alligator adding a whole new dimension to the action. But to say any more about that is revealing too much, as this is where director Chris Crow’s film really starts to move.

Taut, economic and surprisingly well-made in terms of both performances and aesthetics, PANIC ROOM benefits from intelligent reactionary dialogue and a sense of realism to its 2001-ish techno-horror that, even if you don’t get totally sucked into it, is highly engaging regardless.

Conceptually, the film is ambitious and timely. This is its most impressive attribute. The screenplay is smart, the performances are quirky and mannered in a style that’s rarely British in these times where most home-grown genre efforts seem desperate to play by American rules, and the premise does tap into a paranoia that exists in some factions surrounding the security and impact of this age’s obsession with social media.

Crow struggles to maintain a consistent pace over the course of 91 minutes and, by and large, the whole affair feels somewhat smaller than it should. But it’s a cut above most recent British genre fare and deserves your time regardless – and you will be intrigued throughout.

Plus, it’s worth noting that the screenplay was co-written by SGM friend Frazer Lee. To his credit, it rises far above the fact that the cast includes former members of soaps such as "EastEnders" and "Coronation Street".

The preview disc provided presented PANIC BUTTON in anamorphic 2.35:1 with English 2.0 audio.

Picture-wise, the film looks good with sharp visuals and warm colours. Clean and clear, the presentation even on this tester disc easily belies the film’s apparent £300,000 budget.

Similarly, the English 2.0 audio track provided is problem-free from start to end.

There were no extras or even menus on this review disc. However, the retail DVD is set to include a trailer, three teaser trailers, a gag reel, outtakes and deleted scenes, a photo gallery and a Making Of featurette. Also being released on blu-ray, the HD variant is set to include all of the above plus an exclusive documentary.

PANIC BUTTON works well as a small-scale horror thriller, offering a savvy update on the likes of MY LITTLE EYE and even ALIEN, while getting good mileage from its claustrophobic setting. There are pertinent points made in the script and the premise is certainly a smart one, but the film becomes somewhat wayward once it ups the ante during the second half.

Still, it’s a good film and suggests that Crow’s other movie, DEVIL’S BRIDGE, should also be well worth checking out.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Showbox
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review